I spent the weekend (without Internet, telephone, radio or TV!) in Wuppertal taking a lay speaker basic course at the Bethesda Guest House. This is a seminar house run by a group of Methodist nuns. Yes, you read that right. They are called deaconesses, not nuns, because they do not take a vow. But they dedicate their lives to Christ, live communally and work in areas such as nursing, geriatric homes, with children, and such.

There used to be 600 members of their order, they are now down to only about 80, most of them officially retired and living in the Mother Home, but of course still going strong. They wear a habit that consists of plain, practical clothes, a starched collar, a cross, and a wimple that resembles the kind of hat that married women wore at the time their order was founded. They are considered to be married to Christ and his works.

The weekend course is jam-packed: 6 introductory courses, a ton of reading material (I am up to 9 books now, I think) that we are to read over the coming year. And a practice sermonette that prepared in groups of three for the Sunday worship. Our group had this really difficult passage (I thought), because I didn't understand a word of it. After a lot of discussion we wrung some meaning from it and took it to the pastor teaching the course. No, she said, you are reading this too literally. (Of course! I'm a computer science, I compile everything literally!). We have to "feel" what is being said, and then she launches in to what she read in the passage. I don't think I would ever have come up with that. I think I have a lot of reading and discussing to do in the future!

The group is quite interesting - 6 people from international churches in Germany and 6 people from the Ghana Methodist congregations that we have in Germany. There are 4 larger congregations and one smallish group. Boy, do they ever have different problems and discussions than we do! For them, speaking in tongues and interpreting dreams is a vital part of their worship. They have lots of discussions about what is right, and a lot of conflict over questions such as drinking and smoking and homosexuality. And their services are much different than ours are.

It has been very interesting, getting to know them. And really fascinating to be discussing theological questions with these very intelligent men who speak four or five languages (their tribal dialect, Ewe, English, German, and sometimes French) and ask themselves very deep questions - and who work as truck drivers and warehousemen and bakers. Five out of the six have jobs - I don't think you can find many groups of refugee men who have this high a quota of people in work.

After a last morning session of instruction (and some burning theological questions such as the validity of the Apocrypha) we had our "examination" in the form of a church service that we had prepared and conducted. It was a bit heavy on the preaching side - four sermons, because we had four groups. And because we can now assist at communion upon the instruction of a preacher, we gave each other the bread and wine.

We now all have our little lapel pins showing that we are lay speakers. Our certificates will be sent to the superintendents of our respective charge conferences, so that they know where to find us when they need a lay speaker. It will be interesting to see how often we are called. This first year we are only certified to speak in our own local church. But after our advanced training next year (after we have read and understood all of the books we got) we will be certified to speak in the conference.

Wuppertal itself is a drab, dirty, town that looks like it was frozen in time somewhere in the 60s. It is also, for a large part, for rent. The attraction is the Schwebebahn, a train that runs along the river Wupper on stilts. I admit that I didn't get to see more of the town than than the train station and the bus ride up to the guest house. But the shabby, dirty train station is not inviting, and all the frowning people give one pause to think that maybe this is not the play you want to visit unless you have to.

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